Conservatives peddle disinformation as they decry a fictional truck tax

Article originally published in The Star

Conservatives are incensed over a truck tax that does not exist. The outrage stems from an opinion piece in the Toronto Sun by a director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which claims the federal government is “planning to hit Canadians with a big new tax on their trucks and sport utility vehicles.”

The basis for the claim stems from recommendations provided to the government by an independent advisory panel, known as the Net-Zero Advisory Body (NZAB). The NZAB was created via section 20 of the Net Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

Section 13 of the act mandates that the “governments of the provinces, Indigenous peoples of Canada [and] the advisory body established under section 20” be provided with the opportunity to make submissions to the federal government.

The NZAB recommended, among other things, that the government “broaden Canada’s existing Green Levy (Excise Tax) for Fuel Inefficient Vehicles to include additional [internal combustion engine] vehicle types, such as pickup trucks.” This recommendation was included in the annex of the federal government’s recent emissions reduction plan, alongside recommendations from every province and territory, the Métis National Council, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The environment minister is legally bound via section 13.1 of the act to ensure submissions made to the government are available to the public, hence the inclusion of all the submissions in the annex of the government report.

But I guess that’s not as outrage-inducing as claiming the “new tax” is “buried deep” in the report, as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation director claimed.

The Alanis Morissette-level of irony in all this is that the existing excise tax on fuel-inefficient vehicles was brought in under former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2007. This salient detail seemed to have been edited out of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s opinion piece. It also went completely unmentioned by Conservative politicians like Alberta premier Jason Kenney and presumptive Conservative leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre — even though they were members of the Harper government at the time.

It’s much easier to falsely claim this is a “punishing tax on working people for buying pickup trucks,” as Kenney asserted it to be, or that the federal government is looking to “slap thousands in new taxes on anyone who buys a truck,” as Poilievre tweeted.

In its most charitable interpretation, the folks who have been peddling the “truck tax” nonsense are merely too vacuous to understand the difference between an independent advisory body making non-binding recommendations to the federal government, and official government policy. Though it’s hard fathom that applies to politicians who have been in office for as long as Kenney and Poilievre.

Politicians of every stripe will pick and choose which facts and figures to present in order to paint themselves or their party in the most flattering light. But this isn’t merely run-of-the-mill political or partisan spin. The non-existent truck tax is being positioned by Conservatives as official Liberal government policy that will imminently be coming for everyone’s pickup trucks, and that is demonstrably false.

The framing of the truck tax is especially troubling given the Conservative party’s increasing willingness to tolerate — and in some cases actively promote — blatant conspiracy theories, as Poilievre and fellow leadership contender Leslyn Lewis have done.

Wanting a political environment that is predicated on facts and reality isn’t a partisan issue, but it risks becoming one if Conservatives continue to value peddling outrage over the truth.

Eroding the norms of our political discourse will have all sorts of negative consequences for our democracy down the line — all of which are way worse than a non-existent truck tax.

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